CHARLESTON -- More than 100 community members turned out in frigid rain to take part in a March For Our Lives demonstration against gun violence on Saturday on Eastern Illinois University's campus.
The participants in the local march, which was part of March For Our Lives demonstrations nationwide, gathered under a roof overhang outside the Doudna Fine Arts Center and then walked as a group to go stand at the southeast corner of Lincoln Avenue and Fourth Street.
About a block to the east on Lincoln Avenue, more than 30 community members held a counter-demonstration to show their support for the Second Amendment right for U.S. citizens to keep and bear arms. There was little direct interaction between the two groups of demonstrators.
While most of the March For Our Lives group dispersed quickly after reaching Lincoln, participants Aaron Rice and Sarah Devore from Olney placed themselves in front of Old Main as a counter to the arguments being made just across the street.
Rice said he drove an hour to demonstrate and thought it seemed silly to not make a significant appearance off the main drag, Lincoln Avenue, as was scheduled prior to the inclement weather.
The local March For Our Lives demonstration was organized as an offshoot of a public relations campaign class project at Eastern. The professor of this class, Carrie Wilson-Brown, introduced various guest speakers while march participants sheltered under the Doudna roof overhang, canopies and umbrellas at the beginning of this event.
One of the guest speakers was Mattoon High School freshman Alex Seymour, who helped organize a March 14 walkout demonstration against gun violence at her school. Seymour recalled being in an adjacent hallway on Sept. 20 when a student shot and wounded another student in the cafeteria before being subdued by a teacher. She recalled hearing the gunshots and the screams of her classmates.
Referencing school shootings that have taken place at Parkland, Florida and elsewhere, Seymour said it is "not OK" that Americans have needed to get used to hearing about so many school shootings.
"Enough is enough. we are fed up," Seymour said as she urged legislators to take action to help prevent school shootings.
The phrase "Enough is enough" and "Our children are braver than our politicians" were some of the sayings among the protest signs at the March for Our Lives. Signs at the demonstration in support of the Second Amendment included "Only you are responsible for your personal safety" and "Good guys with guns save lives."
One of the counter-demonstration's organizers, Bill Harrison, said their rally was held following a call to action by the Illinois State Rifle Association. Harrison, who is a regional director for Guns Save Life, said they were there to show their support for law-abiding citizens being able to exercise their right to keep and bear arms.
Harrison said shooters tend to prey on schools, churches, concert venues, and other places where people are not allowed to have firearms to defend themselves. Harrison said he feels that authorities already have laws in place to do their part in helping stop such shootings.
"There are existing laws on the books right now that are not being enforced," Harrison said. He added that there are deeper problems at work nationwide regarding the breakdown of morals that are leading people to commit violence.
Harrison said he felt that the counter-demonstration went well on Saturday, noting the many honks of support from vehicles on Lincoln Avenue. Both groups of demonstrators received honks of support, plus a few shouts of opposition or obscene gestures from motorists.
March for Our Lives speakers Jennifer White and her 17-year-old daughter, Zoey, said they felt the march went well despite the rain. Jennifer White said she hopes the march will spur participants to take action to help prevent school shootings. Zoey White, who is a senior at Mattoon High School, said this was the first time she has ever spoken at a demonstration.
"It was intimidating, but I am glad that I did it and I hope that it inspires," Zoey White said.